Archive for the '*Nandita Ray' Category

3D Printing Puts the Means of Production in Your Hands

September 16, 2013

Bre Pettis, founder and CEO of MakerBot, sums up the company’s mission as “creating tools for creative explorers to change the world.” The Brooklyn-based 3D printer manufacturer, founded in 2009, has quickly made a name for itself in five short years. Along with drumming up press coverage in high-profile publications such as Fast Company, it was also recently acquired by industry peer Stratasys for $400 million.


So, what exactly does MakerBot bring to the table? 3D printing capabilities have been around in some form for years with, e.g., laser cutters. What Pettis saw was a real need for a machine that not only produced physical objects from strands of melted plastic filament, but also provided a functionality that’s attainable for individual consumers – a major challenge as 3D printers have largely been the size of refrigerators and used for commercial purposes only.

Pettis took this obstacle in stride. A self-described “tinkerer,” he developed a passion for technology and problem solving at a young age. In a PJA Radio interview, Pettis says, “Because I was around programmers and hackers who were my heroes as a kid, when I was playing Wizardry, I learned [how to change the game]. I feel like I got a real leg up by having access to that technology. It’s a similar thing with the kids of today who grow up with MakerBots – [they] are just going to be able to manifest ideas that other kids won’t be able to.” Armed with an unconventional approach, Pettis, alongside some of the brightest engineers in the space, set about to bring to market a unique printer that prioritizes affordability and accessibility. Able to fit on a standard office desk and with a price point beginning at roughly $1400, MakerBot’s “Replicator” was a hit among engineers, researchers and designers. With over 13,000 MakerBot Desktop 3D Printers sold through to date, the company’s market share has steadily grown since 2009, from 16% to 21.6%.

Despite how both the company and the nascent 3D printing industry have evolved in the last few years, MakerBot continues to emphasize the community-driven approach it was founded on. In 2008, even before debuting their first Replicator prototype, Pettis and colleague Zach Hoeken launched, a hub specifically created to crowd source and share digital designs for hardware and software. In doing so, MakerBot preserves and celebrates openness of the industry, allowing entry to all innovative minds.

The cloud site now houses nearly 100,000 designs, ranging from simple toys and models to truly game-changing technology. In fact, MakerBot’s technology earlier this year enabled a South African man who lost several fingers in an accident to co-develop a 3-D printed prosthesis with a prop designer in Bellingham, Washington. News of the project spread and resulted in the pair developing a prosthesis for children with amniotic band syndrome (a condition in which they are born without hands) – at a fraction of the typical $10,000 price tag. Pettis points to this as what he predicts will be many real-world, transformative applications for 3D printing. “Literally, by owning the means of production, you are making some impossible things possible.”

Visit PJA Radio’s “The Unconventionals” to learn more about how Bre Pettis is innovating the 3D printing industry.


The Evolution of Online Education and its Future Real-Life Applications

June 5, 2013

Once considered a threat to traditional higher educational institutions, online course offerings now seem to be a defining element in creating and maintaining a world-class reputation in the space. Speaking at the BRITE ’13 Conference, Sree Sreenivasan, Columbia University’s first chief digital officer, discussed how the growing demand for massive open online courses (MOOCs) is disrupting conventional thought around the school’s many programs.


There are several platforms in place already, including Harvard and MIT’s co-created platform edX, and for-profit providers Coursera and Udacity, with the landscape changing daily as colleges and universities around the globe explore digital learning models and test them in larger markets. This past April, Stanford University, a long-time advocate for open learning, struck an agreement to share its proprietary Class2Go platform with edX, GigaOm reported.

Despite the growing number of courses offered online and the increasing appetite for them, the sentiment around online degrees seems to be a different story. As discussed in a US News & World Report piece in late 2012, it is still unclear how far down the road major blue-chip organizations are from universally embracing job candidates with online degrees, although smaller organizations have begun to look more seriously at them. Similarly, many schools themselves have reservations – Columbia being one of them. Administration is reluctant to provide online MBA courses for full credit, stating that a large part of the experience happens on campus and in the traditional classroom setting. Given how quickly online ed has taken hold in the past year alone, Sreenivasan predicted more and more accredited institutions will likely begin to offer full-fledged programs.  He explained that the advancement of and increasing accessibility to technology would be a key driver in this space. Columbia, he pointed out, has been involved with online ed since the turn of the century, citing its Fathom project, a learning portal which ran from 2000-2003. He said that its failure to catch on was due to the fact that it was “ahead of its time” and needed people to catch up to, and be able to access, the innovation before it could succeed.

Whatever the challenges, Sreenivasan was adamant that any successful initiative would be rooted in Columbia’s commitment to its brand, claiming that ongoing exploration and testing of online courses would not detract from “the magic that happens in the classroom.” Instead, he expects to optimize how both the digital and physical classrooms operate. How? The same way other big businesses improve their product and services: data. Through the ability to offer classes to tens of thousands of students, educators are able to collect enormous amounts of information on how students interact with courses and online tools. From Sreenivasan’s perspective, it is only a matter of time before digital learning becomes mainstream.

Watch Sree Sreenivasan’s BRITE ’13 talk to learn more about his and other organization’s views on the future of online education.


Small Experiments That Lead to Big Results: The Value of A/B Testing

May 29, 2013

The use of randomized experiments to determine the most effective marketing or communications approach – known as A/B testing – is an extremely valuable tool for companies aiming to make the biggest impact on key stakeholders. However, according to Pete Koomen, president of website optimization software company Optimizely, the method is not implemented nearly enough. At the BRITE ’13 conference, Koomen shared personal experiences to demonstrate the very real value that A/B testing can contribute to developing results-driven communications programs. The most compelling of his examples included the 2008 Obama presidential campaign and the countless tests its analytics team ran on website content and email subject lines. Koomen noted that even the slightest word phrasing could drive visitors to action (e.g., donating funds, signing up to volunteer). “It was an extremely powerful technique for [influencing] decisions,” he said. However, given the deep investment in time and resources needed for A/B testing, Koomen observed over time that companies tended to avoid using the technique – a fact that he and his business partner Dan Siroker quickly recognized as a major business opportunity.


The success of the 2008 campaign spoke for itself. Koomen estimated that methodical experimentation accounted for roughly $75 million more in donations to President Obama’s campaign and 4 million new website registrants. These results motivated Koomen and Siroker, both former Google product managers, to found Optimizely in 2009. They created a simple program that even small and medium-size businesses could utilize without having to depend on specialized in-house talent to run experiments. Organizations with limited resources could take advantage of marketing tactics that Amazon and other major blue-chip companies have been using for years to increase traffic and user conversion.

At BRITE ‘13, Koomen shared some best practices and lessons learned from running over 100,000 tests for clients and identifying the most effective approaches for achieving business objectives. For the Obama campaign, this entailed what Bloomberg BusinessWeek called “strange, incessant, and weirdly over familiar e-mails” due to the unusual, extremely casual tone Obama’s team usedjourney to office in 2008. The fundraising team found that the most successful subject heading “Hey” alone brought in millions of dollars in funding.

A few things that Koomen recommends businesses keep in mind as they take stock of their websites’ performance are:

  • Define quantifiable success metrics. One of the most important parts of testing. As exemplified by the Obama campaign, Koomen states that the campaign staffers did a good job of attracting people to the official website, but turning the site’s visitors into subscribers had proved more challenging and converting email signups to paying donators even more so.  By tweaking the website to optimize those two KPIs – subscribers and payers – the new website outperformed the old version by about 40%.
  • Explore before you refine. Koomen cautions against refining and optimizing in favor of exploring first to ensure you are aware of all potential solutions before selecting one to improve.  Otherwise, there is a chance the best solution will be missed.
  • Less is more. Reducing optionality can have a major impact on a website’s effectiveness. Koomen cites a client which removed a series of links related to its product portfolio and company background from its shopping cart page and saw a 16% improvement in the dollars per visitor.


Watch Pete Koomen’s BRITE ’13 talk to learn more about how A/B Testing can drive greater communications effectiveness.


Investing in Unconventional Thinking

April 23, 2013

PJA Some of the best brand stories emerge from unconventional thinking, especially in a market environment where pure financial wins are harder and harder to come by. Big blue-chip companies are increasingly turning to less traditional methods for expanding brand awareness and affinity by adding a more “human” touch to their marketing efforts. At the BRITE ’13 conference, PJA Advertising + Marketing’s President Mike O’Toole led a panel of marketers from Intel and PepsiCo who have invested in just this type of thinking. Panel members relayed some unique brand-building tactics and how they’re positioning themselves for stronger relationships with current and future customers.

O’Toole, host of PJA Radio’s “The Unconventionals”, started the conversation by noting some of the common characteristics of outside-the-box approaches. In particular, he highlighted the long-term nature of these initiatives, saying, “There’s a sense that if you create experiences that your customer cares about, the goodness will accrue back to you over time.” He also notes that content-owned platforms, vs. external media sponsors, have become a popular tactic in recent years. Txchnologist, an online magazine created in partnership with and sponsored by GE, is one example. Populated by a network of freelance writers and reporters, Txchnologist articles and op-eds discuss technology and innovation’s impact on modern day society. Through this vehicle, GE is able to drive conversation in the space and strengthen its position as an industry thought leader.

Another approach is to provide an outlet or resource that allows consumers to relate better to, or learn from, a brand. Both Intel and PepsiCo have heavily relied on this strategy, lending to the success they’re now seeing nearly three years after kicking off their respective initiatives. Intel’s Creators Project was developed to support new and emerging artists in music, film and design. Run by Creative Director David Haroldsen, the Project produces videos, releases albums, and builds stages for bands, among other things – all in the hopes of showing younger generations how technology enables them to reach larger audiences and celebrate creative expression.

PepsiCo, on the other hand, dedicates about 10% of its digital media spend working with startups during their nascent stages, believing that early investment in these highly innovative companies will lead to valuable business partnerships down the road. PepsiCo Beverages’ Global Head of Digital Shiv Singh tells Crain’s, “We decided to formalize a relationship, to really think about how to bring infrastructure to supporting startups, helping them help us.” Singh likened the relationship to a venture capital firm, but without the need for a checkbook. Startups benefit primarily from PepsiCo’s guidance on things like monetization strategies and marketing insights. PepsiCo team members co-locate incubator spaces, sponsor key events and broaden media relationships. In turn, these startups help develop PepsiCo’s credibility in the social and digital spaces.

Both Intel and PepsiCo have hit plenty of speed bumps before achieving the results they are seeing today. The panelists were also quick to underscore the importance of ongoing measurement. Data and findings from focus groups, website traffic, and attendance at sponsored events are critical to recalibrating program strategy where needed and helping to secure increased budget, time and credibility.

Watch BRITE ’13’s “Unconventional Marketing Investments” to learn more about how PepsiCo and Intel go beyond traditional marketing tactics to strengthen consumer engagement.

Visit Public Radio Exchange for full episodes of “The Unconventionals,” a PJA Radio Production with academic sponsor The Center for Global Brand Leadership at Columbia Business School.


Gamification and the Future of Mobile Payments

February 26, 2013

Michael HaganGeo-gaming platform SCVNGR launched LevelUp in 2010 in response to a dual opportunity to change the payment landscape for retail brands. For retail customers, LevelUp means unlocking discounts or freebies at cafes, restaurants, workout studios around the country — similar to how Groupon, Lifebooker, Scoutmob and other online deals companies work. However, it is LevelUp’s value-add for the merchant – i.e., small business owners – that sets them apart from the pack.

Chief Operating Officer (or “Chief Rockstar” in the company’s terminology) Michael Hagan explains the concept of LevelUp as “the check-in, the challenge and the reward…in one bite” and underlines two major benefits of their app. One, LevelUp provides an option to avoid costly credit card processing fees that can end up taking a hefty percentage of small business owners’ profits daily. On top of that, LevelUp helps merchants build and strengthen their brand relationships by facilitating mini marketing campaigns which impact each patron individually. Driven by game features which customers play to unlock deals, these campaigns provide merchants a greater opportunity to capture new customers and actively change habit via incrementally better bargains upon each visit.

In a recent op-ed for Fast Company, LevelUp CEO (a.k.a. “Chief Ninja”) Seth Priebatsch attributes the growth of innovative mobile services not to forward-looking companies, but to tech-savvy consumers who place great value on efficiency – whether they realize it or not. These consumers, according to Priebatsch, are the ones dictating market disruption through casual demands, such as more convenient payment methods, security, accessibility to higher education and the ability to personalize online content. Given that viewpoint, it will be interesting to see how LevelUp and SCVNGR continue to respond to this “revolution of consumer choice.”

See Michael Hagan speak about gamification and its effects on the future of mobile payments at our BRITE ’13 Conference (March 4-5, NYC).


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